Kent Tritle is moving from one church with a respected music program to another. He explains to Daniel Wakin of the New York Times why he is moving from St. Igatius of Loyola Roman Catholic Church on the Upper East Side to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
St. Ignatius Loyola, the Roman Catholic church, rests nobly at Park Avenue and 84th Street amid the wealth and power of the Upper East Side. Its music program is equally imposing, an important part of the city’s concert scene. Kent Tritle, the organist and choral conductor, has overseen the church’s lyrical side for 22 years. It’s an established, comfortable perch.
But Mr. Tritle is giving it up for roomier, less plush and decidedly non-Catholic confines on the dowdier Upper West Side. He is becoming music director of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, starting on Sept. 1.
For music lovers, his move is a big deal. St. Ignatius, Trinity Church and a few other houses of worship play a major role in the musical life of the city, presenting a whole slice of the literature — sacred and choral music — at a high level and presenting organ works, on spectacular instruments, in their native habitat. Mr. Tritle is a major performing organist, and plays the instrument for the New York Philharmonic when called for.
Here is a brief Q&A:
Q. Why did you decide to take the job at St. John the Divine?
A. I’ve turned 50, and I have energy and, God willing, I have time to go somewhere else and build another program. Given the options in a lifetime, I would like to take an adventure and do something new. It’s a personal choice to shake up my life a little bit. If I can make a contribution to the city of New York by going to St. John the Divine and helping build an even stronger and better program, that’s my calling. I feel a strong spiritual and emotional pull to build another program.
Q. How does it feel to leave a Catholic church for a Protestant one?
A. I grew up in the Methodist Episcopal Church. There’s a homecoming for me in that sense, to be back in the Protestant church. Also, I’m gay. It’s tangential, but to be in a place where all people — I was very accepted at St. Ignatius — but to be in a place that professes such a liberal embrace, that’s what I want to be a part of.
Q. What will you bring to this Episcopal cathedral?
A. St. John’s follows a strong Anglican model. I think there is a broader repertoire, a broader stylistic range that we need to be bringing both to the worship settings and to the concert environment. What I would like to do is keep a foot in tradition — I think that repertoire is fabulous — but to enlarge it to other forms and tie it into the diversity of the congregation. The cathedral’s concert programs for its choirs have been very conservative. It’s a cathedral. We should be setting standards for the diocese and internationally.